With the uncertainty about the coronavirus comes a tremendous amount of stress. Many questions about the virus and its implications remain unanswered—and may continue to be unanswered for the weeks and months ahead. Immediate challenges from the virus, such as illness or loss of work, bring stress. This stress is often compounded by worries about the future. Even if someone isn’t experiencing challenges at this moment, anxiety can still ensue by worrying about what’s next.
From a mindfulness standpoint, an effective technique to help reduce stress is to practice “not knowing.” By not imagining outcomes based on fears, you can remain open and present to what is. To practice, try to notice when you worry about the future and then remind yourself that you don’t know. Will this last for months? I don’t know. Will I get sick, or will my loved ones get sick? I don’t know. Will life return to the way it was? I don’t know. This practice can help your anxieties lose some of their power, as you realize that your mind may be creating stories about what’s to come— when in reality, you simply don’t know.
It can be freeing to notice your thoughts without getting lost in them—and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment. As of today, the present moment reveals that the coronavirus issue is upon us and life as we know it is changed. Beyond that, we simply don’t know what’s next.
All we know is that we’re all in this together, since we’re all part of the interconnected web of life. And we can only hope that it’s our interconnectedness, rather than our social distancing, that helps pull us through this crisis. Meanwhile, reminding yourself “I don’t know” may help ease anxieties about the future, as you bring your awareness to the present moment.
If you’d like to try a meditation to help you release stories about the future that can create stress, check out my latest podcast episode here: https://joyrains.com/episode-8/.
The practice of meditation helps you respond to life’s events consciously, rather than react unconsciously. This can go a long way towards reducing stress. For example, if you’re waiting in line to pay for your purchases and someone cuts in front of you, rather than going into an immediate stress-related reaction (such as shouting “How dare you cut in front of me! I’ve been waiting 20 minutes!), meditation can help you notice events without having such a strong emotional reaction. You may be able to calmly say to the encroacher, “Excuse me please, people are waiting in line here. Please step to the back of the line.”
Practicing meditation doesn’t have to take long; simply sit in a quiet place for a few minutes, close your eyes and bring all your attention to your breath, noticing your chest rising and falling, or noticing the coolness of the air when you inhale and its warmth when you exhale. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath. This practice, even if done for a few minutes a day, can help recharge and center you.
If you’d like to listen to guided meditations, check out my new podcast, Mindful 180. https://joyrains.com/category/mindful-180-podcast/
Got stress? Here are three tips to help you center and find balance.
Tip #1: Create a Stress-Free Zone at Home
Have a “stress-free zone” in your home. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room—or even a favorite chair. One busy professional carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a quiet meditation space. Another person transformed a bedroom corner into a private space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, music, or artwork. Taking the time to pause—even for a few minutes a day—can go a long way towards managing stress.
Tip #2: Weave Mindful Moments Into Your Day
Consider weaving “mindful moments” into your day-times when you quiet the chatter in your mind and bring your focus into the present moment. For example, when you walk to the coffee machine in the office, bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your feet. Or when you eat lunch, bring all your awareness to the process of eating: the pace of your eating, the taste of the food, the colors of the food on your plate. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back. This process of bringing all your attention to what’s happening in the present moment can also go a long way towards managing stress.
Tip #3: Do a body relaxation meditation.
Sit in a quiet place and gently lower your eyelids to a soft gaze or a full close. Slowly move your awareness throughout your entire body, either starting with your feet and working your way up, or starting with your head and working your way down. Pause at each muscle group and see if you can release any tension. You may want to silently say to yourself “relax” with each inhale, and “release” with each exhale. Or you may want to imagine a muscle group getting warmer and warmer until the tension melts away. If you find that you’re more relaxed, see if you can develop a muscle memory of what your body feels like when it’s relaxed, so you can tap into that memory in times of stress.
These three tips are simple to practice, and best of all, they’re free! They don’t require any special equipment or training. All they require is remembering to stop and pause—if only for a few moments.
#1: Change expectations. One reason people get stressed in traffic is that their expectation for the amount of traffic they’re expecting is often different than the reality of the volume of traffic. By approaching the driving time with an open mind and without expectations for the way things “should be,” people are less likely to get stressed.
#2: “Be” in the traffic. If you’re stuck in traffic, accept that this is where you are right now. And not only are you “in” the traffic, you’re part of the traffic! You’re in a community of people who are all stuck in this same situation, all wanting to get to where they’re going.
#3: Notice negative thinking. Negative thinking can amplify stress. If you notice negative thoughts about being in traffic, see if you can focus on something positive about the situation instead, like being grateful for having a car, or having a cell phone to let someone know you’re running late.
Managing your mindset can go a long way to reducing stress levels. Remember, you can’t change external events—you can only change your response to them.
Whether you experience turbulence on an airplane, in your work life, or in your home life—meditation can help see you through times that are challenging. You can practice meditating by shifting your attention from your thoughts to something neutral, such as your breath or the feeling of your feet on the ground.
If you’re traveling in an airplane that starts to pitch and shake—your imagination may kick into high gear. The scenarios you imagine are dire: the plane dropping thousands of feet, crashing into the ocean, and your family members grieving your demise. Pretty soon you are in a full-blown stress response.
WAIT. Consider that your stress response is more in response to your thoughts than in response to what’s actually happening with the plane. You don’t know that the plane is going to drop, or that you’ll crash into the ocean, or that this will be the end of life as you know it.
CONSIDER. All you know is that you are experiencing turbulence. That’s it. See if you can stop making predictions about a dire future outcome.
CONNECT. Plant your feet on the floor beneath your seat. Feel the connection between the soles of your feet and the carpet. This will help keep your attention in your body, rather than lost in anxious thoughts.
BREATHE. Bring your attention to your breath moving in and out of your body. Perhaps you can notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breathe out. Notice your chest rising and falling. You can even silently say to yourself, “rising, falling” with each inhale and exhale to help keep your attention on your breath.
Every time you notice another anxious thought arising, see if you can release it, and gently bring your attention back to your feet and your breath. Bring your attention back as often as needed, even if it’s every second or two.
Remember, turbulence is not a permanent condition, and this, too, shall pass.
One of the reasons people like to micro-manage everything is because they are worried about outcomes. And yes, I easily fall into this category, which is why I took up the practice of meditation almost 30 years ago!
One day at the local post office, I was worrying about the label on a package, as it didn’t look as if it was affixed properly. The best words of advice came from a mailman, who said, “The things you worry about generally don’t happen. It’s the things that come out of left field that cause you difficulty—things you never even dreamed of.”
Approaching life with this mailman’s wise words in mind, one can enter a state of “not knowing,” where you let go of predicting outcomes and instead, live in the present moment.
“Not knowing” is different than “not planning”
Entering the space of not knowing is different than not planning. One can plan for the future without getting lost in anxiety about imagined future outcomes and without trying to “control” the future. People can control their actions, but they cannot control the results.
The practice of “not knowing”
“Not knowing is most intimate” is an important concept in meditation practice. Intimacy in this sense means the direct awareness that brings you closer to both the immediacy of the present moment and to your true self. By not imagining outcomes based on fears, judgments, memories, and the like, you can remain open and present to what is.
Consider the following scenario: A woman takes a taxi to the airport in near-blizzard conditions. Snow falls steadily, and cars spin out of control, yet she remains in a space of “not knowing” and remains calm about what will happen next. Will the car spin out? Will they get into an accident? Will she miss her flight? As each anxious thought begins to arise, she reminds herself that she doesn’t know, and the thought loses its power.
She only knows for certain that snow is falling and accumulating, and drivers are struggling with poor road conditions. She finds it freeing to notice her stories without getting lost in them—and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment.
She simply notices when she wants to make an assumption about the future, and then she reminds herself that she doesn’t know. If you could listen to her thoughts, you might hear: Will I get to the airport? I don’t know. Will the weather be ok to fly? I don’t know.
Being comfortable with not knowing can bring enormous freedom and with it, awareness of the moment as it really is.
When things don’t go the way you want, stress can arise. Much of the stress comes from ruminating about the past or creating imagined stories about the future.
To reduce stress, see if you can rest your mind in the immediacy of the present moment. Upon entering this moment, let go of past stories and imagined future stories—both of which give the illusion of a sense of control—and enter a space of not knowing. By not imagining outcomes based on fears and judgments, you can remain open and present to what is.
We simply don’t know what the future holds. Staying in the immediacy of the present moment can be challenging, but it can be realized with practice. Sometimes the practice is simply one of remembering to focus on just this next breath. And then the next one. And so on…
Here’s a link to a couple of meditations that can help reduce stress:
https://soundcloud.com/joyrains Hope you enjoy!
Here’s an out-of-the-box idea that can be used for team-building, creativity, problem-solving, walking meditation, and more: bring a portable labyrinth in to your next meeting. The ancient practice of labyrinth walking is perfect for modern times.
No special training is needed. If a person is able to walk, than they can walk a labyrinth. All one needs to do is start at the beginning and follow the circuitous path to the middle, and then take the same path out again. The twists and turns on the path can help balance left and right sides of the brain and allow for more creativity and well-being, among other great benefits.
Portable labyrinths are often made from heavy canvas and can range from 20 feet to 36 feet in diameter. Permanent labyrinths can be found in parks, medical centers and many more locations. More information on labyrinths and their uses can be found on: https://joyrains.com/workplace-programs/walking-meditation/
Just meditating for two minutes a day can help train your mind. Regular practice is the key to learning any new skill. It’s important to approach meditation in a way that you will feel successful, so you don’t get discouraged and give up. Two minutes is a small enough time commitment to be manageable for many people. Once a daily habit of meditating is developed, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes a day, people often can realize many of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation: reduced stress, increased focus and enhanced positive emotion. Here’s a link to a free two minute (and 12 second) audio meditation: https://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/
Although some people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise. Meditation is about returning to your immediate experience in the present moment. Notice when your attention wanders, and then gently return your attention to a focal point for your awareness, such as your breath. Again and again and again. This process is key to the practice of meditation, since it exercises your minds’s “muscle.” Just as the repetitive motion of abdominal exercises can build your core strength, the repetition of noticing when your mind wanders and returning your attention to your focal point can build your power of awareness.
It’s time for that summer vacation. Ahh. Lying on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves … there’s nothing like it. All your muscles relax and you forget all the stressors of daily life. But how can you take this feeling of relaxation back home with you?
See if you can develop a mind/body memory. At the time that you are most relaxed on your vacation, notice how you feel. What is the state of your mind? How does your body feel? Try to develop a memory of this experience to call upon when you get back home.
When you get home and are faced with the stressors of everyday life, have realistic expectations. If you resist these stressors and think “this shouldn’t be happening!” or “I don’t want to be back home!” you can create even more stress. See if you can call on that mind/body memory of relaxation—and incorporate that feeling into your daily life, simply by using your imagination.
Creating a “stress-free zone” at home can help you relax. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or music. If you’d like to listen to a two minute guided meditation, you can find one here: https://soundcloud.com/joyrains/listenbreatherelax
Although many people think of meditating as sitting still and noticing the breath, there are countless variations on this ancient practice. Don’t like to sit still? Try a walking meditation. (Each time you take a step bring all your attention to the soles of your feet touching the ground.) Have a stuffy nose? Try a meditation using a smooth stone as your focal point. (Each time your mind wanders bring your attention back to the smooth stone in the palm of your hand.) Bothered by negative thoughts? Try a gratitude meditation. (Each time you notice another thought arising, silently say to yourself “thank you”.) Only have two minutes? No problem! Meditating for two minutes is better than not meditating at all.
The great part about these practices is that they can be done most anywhere, anytime!
Imagine coming home to a personal retreat space. A space where you can sink into the quiet of soft music, soft lighting, soft being. Away from the noise of the office, or the kids, or everything else in your life that cries loudly for your attention. Imagine a personal retreat space that is just about you.
All is takes is intention and a bit of creativity to create a place where you can regularly take a break from the business of your life. You can learn to associate this dedicated space with quieting your mind. Include a place to sit, such as a chair or cushion, and also inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or audio recordings. You could devote an entire room to your personal retreat space, or just a corner of a room. One busy mom carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a sacred space away from the kids. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a sacred space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. What to do in this sacred space? Meditate, do yoga, read inspirational books, listen to soothing music, or just breathe. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to go to a fancy spa in an exotic location (although that would be nice!). All you need to do is to enter your retreat place, take a deep breath and simply be.
Changing your awareness can change your physical response. Consider this: your body doesn’t know the difference between stress you imagine and real stress. If you are watching a suspenseful movie, your heartbeat may quicken and you may even find that beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. Your body is reacting to your mind’s cues.
But by bringing awareness to the content of your mind through meditation, you may be able to release tension in your body. If a woman is at the dentist thinking “I hate being here,” her body may be tensed up as a result of her thoughts. But by bringing awareness to her thoughts and to her body’s tension, she may be able to untangle mental and physical stress and bring her body to a more relaxed state – even though she doesn’t like being where she is.
Just as pulling aside the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” revealed that the Wizard wasn’t so powerful, pulling aside the curtain on what the mind is thinking can help reduce the power of thoughts, and the related physical stress.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Your anxiety may be getting in the way of getting help for your anxiety! Perhaps you are worried if you ask your doctor about it you will be perceived as abnormal, or weak, or any number of other negative connotations.
Consider taking up the practice of meditation as a starting point in dealing with anxiety. Meditation allows you to see more clearly, so that you can become aware of the stories you are telling yourself. If you can see that you are telling yourself a story about your doctor judging you negatively when you request help, ask yourself: What’s more important to me – what I believe about my doctor’s perceptions, or getting help for my anxiety? Another question to consider is this: If I feel so uncomfortable discussing issues with this doctor, can I find a different health-care professional that I feel comfortable with?
The practice of meditation can be as simple as sitting and noticing your breath for a couple minutes a day. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath, even if it’s every few seconds. Meditation doesn’t require any special equipment or training, and best of all, it’s free!
A great way to shut off your brain and relax your body to prepare for sleep is to do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Here are the directions:
Lie on your back and bring all your attention to your body. Begin a process of gently tightening and releasing each muscle group, starting with your feet and working your way upwards to the top of your head. Hold each muscle as tightly as you can for about 5 seconds, then release it completely and see if you can notice the difference between the muscle tightened and the muscle relaxed. Move onto the next muscle until you’ve relaxed your entire body.
Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the tightening and releasing of each muscle group.
This technique was developed by American physician Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920’s